Even with this endorsement, Caldwell acknowledged that only two
Afghan National Army battalions -- out of about 180 -- are operating
independently, without coalition support.
He then clarified, "When I say 'independently,' I don't want to be
misleading. It does not mean they have absolutely no coalition support,"
Caldwell said. "We keep saying that in 2014 ... when the Afghans take the
lead for security here in Afghanistan, there will still be coalition
enablers here. The same is true today for those two units that are
'operating independently.' "
The U.S.-led coalition has not yet developed the logistics,
maintenance, or medical systems of the Afghan security forces, he said.
"This is the year where we really start taking that on."
By next March, Caldwell said, an expected influx of an additional 800
trainers will help train the security forces in these "specialty"
skills. "We've got two or three years now to fully get developed, get in
place, partner with, so that they are much more able to operate without
our support as we near 2014. But today we haven't developed their
systems to enable them to do that yet."
There are about 124 other battalions that are operating effectively
with what Caldwell called minimal coalition support. Others still need
"tremendous amounts of coalition assistance," he said.
After 2014, some coalition forces will still be needed to provide
"everything from intelligence support to air support," Caldwell said.
The U.S. exit strategy for Afghanistan depends on building Afghan
army and police forces capable of battling the Taliban and holding areas
of the country that NATO forces have cleared of militants. Since 2002,
the U.S. and its allies have spent more than $27 billion to recruit and
train Afghan security personnel, with about half of that money earmarked
for rebuilding Afghanistan after decades of conflict; the coalition
plans to spend billions more on the effort.
The U.S. is on track to meet its goal of growing Afghan's security
forces to 352,000 personnel by November 2012. In the long term, the
sustainable cost to train and equip a force that size is expected to
cost about $6 billion a year in contributions from the U.S., the
international community, and the Afghans themselves.
But Caldwell said he was optimistic this cost to maintain the force would be "significantly lower than that."
"We're assuming right now when we say that [$6 billion] number ... is
with nothing changing from what it is today," he said. "We in fact do
expect the level of insurgency to go down; we do in fact expect us to
still find more efficiencies in how we do things and how we operate that
can further cut the long-term costs."
Caldwell cited some examples: namely, the Afghan First initiative, in
which the coalition has saved about $168 million a year by procuring
its boots and uniforms and other products from local factories instead
of shipping them into Afghanistan. Caldwell said he has been wearing a
pair of Afghan-made boots for the past several months to ensure quality